"Ada!" Legolas had been pacing up and
down outside his father's study for almost ten minutes. "Ada,
you are latethe sun has already risen."
"I seriously doubt that a few minutes will make any difference
to the outcome, Lassui," said Thranduil. He motioned his
son to step aside, then seized the door latch and threw open the
Legolas looked anxiously into the chamber. Eowyn was standing
beside his father's desk, one hand rubbing her lower backShe
is tired, he thoughtthe other pointing towards the garden
cavern. "Look!" she was saying to Fingolfin. "Look,
my lord! The sun has already risen!"
Then she turned towards him, recognised him, and smiled.
Legolas' heart leaped.
"Melmenya!" he cried, rushing past his father. He scooped
Eowyn into his arms and whirled her round and round. "Melmenya,
"Lassui," Thranduil chided, "calm down! I take
it that you have finished the task?" he said, to Eowyn.
"With Lord Fingolfin's help," she replied, laughing
as Legolas lifted her even higher. "Put me down," she
said, grinning, "I need to speak to your father."
Legolas lowered her to the floor and kissed her forehead.
Eowyn straightened her gown and pushed a stray strand of hair
behind her ear. Then, adopting a serious, business-like tone,
she showed Thranduil the various piles of paper she and Fingolfin
had assembled. "All the letters have been sorted according
to sender, as you requested," she said, "or, rather,
according to the sender's initial. Each of these rows represents
a Tengwar characterstarting with tinco, here.
Within the rows, each sender has his or her own pileand
the piles are also arranged in Tengwar order. I have not
had time to sort the correspondence in each pile by date, but
I am sure that your secretary will have no trouble doing that."
He is trying not to show how impressed he is, thought Legolas.
"And I have been thinking," continued Eowynand
Legolas recognised her tone: it was the one she used when talking
about her orc map"that what you need is a special set
of shelves, with a separate compartment for each sender. My brother's
secretary uses something similar. I am sure he would help me explain
it to one of your craftsmen"
"How much," said Thranduil, gesturing towards the piles
of parchment, "of this did you do yourself and how much is
Lord Fingolfin's work?"
Eowyn paused, open-mouthed.
"Perhaps I should answer that, your Majesty,"
said Fingolfin. "I have been teaching Lady Eowyn to speak
Elvish since she first came to live in Eryn Carantaur, but we
have spent very little time on the written language. When I arrived
last night she had already decided how to sort the letters and
was carefully spelling out each sender's name. All I did was give
her another lessonwe worked on recognising the written characters,
which merely helped her to sort the documents faster."
Thranduil seemed satisfied. "Very well," he said. "You
have completed the first task, mell nín."
Legolas hugged Eowyn tightly.
"But," Thranduil continued, "you still have two
more to perform. So I suggest that you take some rest and return
to me at four o'clock this afternoon."
Eowyn nodded solemnly, and turned to leave, but Legolas caught
her around the waist. "That is far too soon, Ada,"
he protested. "You can see that Eowyn is tired. Surely you
can allow her an extra day to recover?"
"Would you need a day to recover, Lassui?" Thranduil
"No. And if Eowyn wants to marry you, she must show that
she can keep pace with you."
"Sometimes," Legolas muttered, "I prefer to keep
pace with her."
"I am sure you do," said Thranduil, dryly, "but
the tasks are mine to set."
"I will be fine after a few hours' rest," said Eowyn,
firmly. "If you will excuse us, King Thranduiland,
thank you, Lord Fingolfin"she clasped his hands"thank
you, very much. I am forever in your debt."
Fingolfin lifted her hands to his mouth and kissed them. "No,
my lady." He smiled; then he added, "Caro naid dithin
na veleth veleg."
"Do small things with great love," said Eowyn, smiling.
"Come melmenya," said Legolas, nodding his own thanks
to his Counsellor, "you need to rest. Until later, Ada..."
Eowyn refused to be carried.
"Did you talk to Haldir about the bear?" she asked.
"I did. And he and Iwith a few of the others, and
my old friend, Singollohave spent the night searching the
tunnels together. We even explored the dungeons."
"Did you find anything?" Eowyn yawned. Legolas placed
his hand on her lower back, supportively, and guided her down
"No. Not a trace."
"But we will try again tonight. I wish you could be with
us, meleth nínbut I am so proud of you, Eowyn.
I do not think I could have done what you did last night."
He began to hug her but suddenly stopped in mid embrace, turning
his head to listen intently. "What was that?"
"I did not hear anything."
"It sounded like someone moaning." He led her back
to the tunnel wall. "Stay here," he said.
"No," said Eowyn, "I am coming with you."
"You are tired."
"Not any more!"
Conceding defeat, Legolas took her by the hand and, together,
they moved slowly and silentlyas silently as Eowyn was abledown
the corridor, checking the side passages and the garden caverns
and the deep, recessed doorways, as they went.
"I heard that," whispered Eowyn, suddenly. "You
are rightit sounds like an elleth, in pain"
Grasping her hand more tightly, Legolas led her quickly down
one of the side passages. "This leads to the serving ellith's
quarters," he said.
"You do not suppose..." Eowyn began, but she never
finished her question. "Look!" She pointed to what looked
like a pile of laundry, lying on the ground beside one of the
"Rothinzil!" cried Legolas. He let go of Eowyn's hand
and rushed to the moaning elleth, dropping to his knees by her
"Is she injured?" asked Eowyn. Legolas did not answer.
"Do not disturb her too much, Legolas, if she isoh
Legolas had carefully lifted a piece of torn fabric from the
elleth's face and neck to reveal several deep gouges in her shoulders.
"Claw marks," said Eowyn. She knelt beside the elleth.
"Go and fetch Master Dínendal and someone from the
healing room. She will have to be carried." She pressed the
fabric to the wounds, trying to stem the flow of blood. "These
need cleaning and dressing, andLegolas!"
The elf seemed stunned. "This is because of me," he
Eowyn turned to look at him. "We will talk about that later,
my darlingnow, you must go and get help."
"I cannot leave you"
"You must. And you must be quick. Leave me one of
your knives and go."
Legolas tore his eyes from Rothinzil's wound and stared at Eowyn.
"Go," she said. "Please."
"I will be back soon," he said, squeezing her arm.
Then he leaped to his feet, drew one of his white knives, handed
it to her and, after one final apologetic smile, ran down the
corridor towards the main thoroughfare.
Eowyn turned her attention back to Rothinzil and, still holding
the cloth firmly against the wounds, spoke to her softly and reassuringly:
"Legolas has gone to get help," she said. "You
will soon be taken care of. And I will not let the bear hurt you
again. Estelio nin, Rothinzil," she added. "Trust
Eomer stood before the mirror, examining his reflection.
Since arriving in Eryn Lasgalen he had become acutely aware of
the value of appearances and, this morning, he had spent an unusually
long time combing his freshly washed hair into some semblance
of order and trimming his beard to a neat point.
He inspected his ceremonial leather cuirassbuffed to a
rich tan by two industrious elven servantsand the intricate
gold-and-silver braid on his deep green velvet surcoat.
"Do I look like a king?" he wondered aloud.
A now-familiar breeze brushed his cheek.
"Firith," he grumbled, "you must stop this."
He walked over to his desk to collect Thranduil's intelligence
reportwhich he wanted to discuss with Gimli and Lord Colgan
before the talks began in earnest that afternoonbut, as
he reached towards the pile of parchments, his hand froze in mid
The neat stack he had left the night before had been disturbed.
Two sheets had been pulled out from the pile and placed side-by-side
on the desk. A quill pen had been taken from the inkstand and
laid across one of the sheetsa sketch mapand a stick
of sealing wax had been placed on the other.
Eomer had no doubt who was responsible. "Firith," he
asked, "why did you do this?"
Firith ruffled his hair.
Eomer sighed. "Am I supposed to look at these?" He
reached for the map, but a cold gust stayed his hand. "No?"
The quill pen rolled back and forth.
"The pen? What do you want me to do with the pen?"
He reached for the quill but it immediately rolled away from
his hand. "You do not want me to use it. What, then?"
For a split second, the pen rose up, as if lifted by an invisible
hand, and its nib jabbed at the map.
"What are you trying to show me?" Eomer asked, softly.
He leaned over the map and looked closely at the area beneath
the nib. "White Rocks," he read. "Why is that important?"
He turned to the second sheet of parchment. A single sentence
had been underlined by the stick of sealing wax, "'There
is a noise like the striking of many hammers.'"
"A noise. What is making the noise, Firith?"
The wax stick moved. Eomer read another sentence, "'Nearby
there are three rings of burnt earth and the tracks of a huge,
clawed beast...' Tracks? Is this something to do with the
bear, Firith?" He looked around the chamber. "How do
you know that this is important?"
The breeze rolled gently round the room, moving hangings and
draperies, then disappeared through the foliage, into the garden
cave. A few moments later, it returned.
"Because you left my chambers and paid the Beornings a visit,"
Firith kissed his forehead.
"Gods," he said, "what am I going to do with you?"
"Melmenya!" Legolas ran back down the corridor and
fell to his knees beside her. "Are you all right?"
"Yes. Yesthere has been no more sign of the bear."
"Dínendal is on his way. How is she?"
"The bleeding has stopped"she turned to him,
smiling"thanks to elven powers of healing, but the
wounds need cleaning. And she is has been ramblingnothing
I could understand, but she is still very frightened. Ah..."
Dínendal had appeared, hurrying down the corridor, with
his healing bag, followed by two assistants carrying a stretcher.
"Allow me, my lady," he said, gently taking Rothinzil
from Eowyn's arms and laying her down on the ground. "I will
take care of her, now."
It took Dínendal some time to persuade Legolas and Eowyn
to leave Rothinzil in his care buteventuallyLegolas
was convinced by the argument that Eowyn would need to sleep before
beginning her next task.
"What did you mean," asked Eowyn, yawning, as the couple
entered their chambers, "when you said that Rothinzil had
been attacked because of you?"
"I meant that the bear is attacking everyone I care about,
or used to care about," said Legolas, closing the door.
"Yes, I agree. But how did it know?"
"Know what, melmenya?"
"About Rothinzil? I was an obvious target and Lindë
was all over you at the banquet... But how did it know that you
had tupped Rothinzil?"
"Melmenya!" Legolas was shocked by her coarse language.
"I know that this must hurt," he said, taking her in
his arms, "and I am sorryI am so sorry"he
kissed her forehead"but it is all in the past, melmenya...
And, yes, it was tupping. Just tupping. It meant nothing"
"I do not believe you," said Eowyn.
"What? How can you think"
"You are not capable of mindless tupping, Legolas,"
said Eowyn. She broke away from him, walked into the bedchamber
and began undressing. "You cared for every one of those ellith.
You would not have bedded them otherwise."
"Oh, my love!"
He rushed to her and took her in his arms, and she buried her
face in his chest. "And I would not have you any other way,
Legolas," she said, "so I will just have to learn to
live with it." She hugged him, tightly. "But none of
this answers my question: how did it know?"
"I have no idwait: it must have seen her leave."
"Yes, she..." He hesitated. "She came to see me,
melmenya," he admitted, at last, "and I sent her away.
But I did stand at the door with her and watch her leave."
He decided not to mention the business with the tunic, or the
brief, brotherly kiss that he had given her as she left.
"Did anyone else see you together?"
"No. Well, only little Lady Gunnhildr"
"Gunnhildr?" Eowyn pulled herself out of his arms.
"Gunnhildr! Of course," she said, "I am an idiot!
How could I have been so foolish? It is not one of the
men! It is Gunnhildr who wants you! She must have seen you, naked,
in the stream near Lorien, and"
Eowyn remembered how Legolas had looked that day, his taut, muscular
body damp and glistening, his pale golden hair lifting in the
breeze... Suddenly, the bear's behaviour was no mystery.
But Legolas was not convinced. "No, it cannot possibly be
her, melmenya," he said, "she is far too timid"
"She is only timid when she is a woman!" said Eowyn.
"Perhaps it is because she is so timid as a woman
that she changes..." She climbed back into her gown and began
retying her lacings. "We need to speak to Berryn."
"What? Why Berryn, melmenya? No! Wait! No! You cannot! You
must get some sleep!"
Eowyn stopped in mid stride. "I had forgotten," she
muttered. Then, "Gods," she cried as she struggled to
unlace herself again, "it is so frustrating!"
Legolas stilled her hands. "Here," he said, smiling
at her outburst, "let me help you into bed. I have some cordial
from Dínendal that will help you sleepyou can tell
me exactly what you are thinking whilst I undress you." He
started work on loosening the knot she had managed to turn into
"Supposing it is Gunnhildr," said Eowyn, raising
her arm for him, "and I am sure that it must be, we cannot
just imprison her."
"No," Legolas agreed, "that would certainly not
help my father's negotiations."
"So we need to know more about skin-changers; we need to
know if there is any way to recognise a skin-changer when heor
sheis in human form."
"You are thinking of letting Berryn loose on my father's
Eowyn nodded. "He did a good job last time."
"He had Maglor to help him."
"Your father must also have a librarian. And Berryn could
get answers out of a stone." Eowyn lowered both arms and
allowed Legolas to slide her gown down to her waist then over
her hips. "I have another idea, as well."
"Whatever it is, melmenya," said Legolas, "NO."
"You have not heard it"
"I do not need to hear it, Eowyn; I know that tone of voice.
"At least listen."
Legolas sighed. "Get into bed, then," he said, "and
Eowyn smiled triumphantly. "You did not catch Gunnhildr
last night," she said, "because she did not choose to
skin change. So what we need to do is persuade her. We need bait."
She watched as Legolas prepared a glass of Dínendal's cordial.
Legolas sighed. "I knew you were going to say that,"
"I could lead her into an ambush."
Legolas handed her the glass. "We can do nothing until you
have completed my father's tasks, melmenya," he said. "Now
drink. And I will wake you at half past three with a glass of
"Ah, Collo, thank you for coming," said Legolas.
He had asked the hunting party from the previous night to gather
in Haldir's chambers.
"Is there any news?" asked Singollo.
"Yes and no," replied Legolas. He perched on Haldir's
desk. "As you have probably heard, Eowyn and I found another
of the bear's victims this morninga serving elleth. Master
Dínendal has been treating her injuries."
He turned to Dínendal, inviting him to comment.
"Her physical wounds are surprisingly superficial,"
said the healer, "though there could be some scarring, across
her breasts." Gimli grunted angrily. "But the main injury,"
continued the healer, "is to her spirit. She is very distressed
andI fearthere is little that I can do for her. It
is up to her family and friends to help her."
Legolas thanked him with a nod of the head. "After this
attack," he continued, "Eowyn is more convinced that
ever that the bear is a Beorning. In fact, she thinks that it
is Lady Gunnhildr"
Gimli laughed. "That timid little thing?" he cried.
"But why would she attack Rothinzil, Lassui?" asked
Singollo. Then, as realisation dawned on him, he smiled broadly.
"You sly dog!" he said. "Little Rothinzil!
The sweetest cordof in the orchard!"
"What does he mean?" asked Gimli.
Legolas sighed. "Rothinzil and I, wewe have a past
together," he said. "It was over a long time agolong
agobut my father knew about it and he appointed Rothinzil
as Eowyn's lady's maid."
"That elf wants gelding," grumbled Gimli. "No
Haldir nodded in agreement.
"Lady Gunnhildr was the only person who saw Rothinzil leaving
my chambers yesterday," said Legolas, "so Eowyn is convinced"
"What happened?" asked Haldir, suddenly raising his
head; there was a cold edge to his voice. "A servant leaving
your chambers should have passed unnoticed," he said, "so
what exactly did Gunnhildr see?"
"March Warden!" cried Dínendal.
"Nothing," said Legolas, firmly. "She saw nothing
because there was nothing to see, March Warden." Then he
added, icily, "And I believe we have had this conversation
His final words seemed to bring Haldir back to his senses for,
immediately, the larger elf backed down. "I am sorry,"
"Your apology is accepted."
Legolas turned to the others. "Eowyn has a plan. She wants
to act as baitshe thinks that she can lead the bear into
an ambush." There were groans of disapproval around the room.
"Exactly," agreed Legolas. "But you know how courageous
she is..." He smiled, fondly. "Fortunately, she is sleeping
now, and she will be occupied with my father's tasks for at least
two more nights, which gives us more than enough time to capture
this creature without herher plan is a good one," he
"A good one! Surely you do not intend to risk some other
young lass's life?" said Gimli.
"No, of course not, elvellon," said Legolas.
"No. I plan to use myself as bait."
Six hours later
Washed, dressed and fortified with miruvor, Eowyn hurried to
Thranduil's study. She knocked lightly on the door, paused for
a moment, then opened it.
"Ah, Eowyn vell nín, please come in, sit down.
I trust you are well rested?"
"I am, your Majesty. Thank you."
Thranduil took a piece of parchment from his otherwise empty
desk and handed it to her. Eowyn examined it carefully. It was
a list of names.
"These are the Edair of Sad Glawar," Thranduil explained,
"a settlement to the north east of here, on the very edge
of Eryn Lasgalen."
Eowyn studied the list, silently spelling out the namesThorondir
Eaglegaze, Malbeth Goldword, Siriondil Riverlover, Lassemista
Greyleaf... Wood elves, she thought, wilder and less
sophisticated than the elves I know, but still Good People.
"For some years," Thranduil continued, "these
elves have been refusing to pay their poll tax. You have until
dawn tomorrow to persuade them to do soI expect to see you
back here, by mid morning, with a portion of their arrears as
proof of their agreement. I will supply you with an escort of
two guards, Angrod and Findaráto. You are not to take any
additional warriors with youyou are there to persuade, not
to threaten. And you are not to take that meddler, Fingolfin"
"But, your Majesty," Eowyn protested, "if the
Valar were to see fit"
"They will not," said Thranduil firmly.
"Very well," said Eowyn, sighing inwardly. "But
can you at least provide me with some information about these
menthese elvesand the circumstances of their dispute
That assessment of the situation will not be welcome,
she thought, and she carefully avoided looking the Elvenking in
the eye. "Perhaps Lord Astaldo could speak with me..."
"Do you really want to waste the time?" said Thranduil.
"My uncle, Theoden King, always maintained that time spent
in sensible preparation was worth thrice the time spent in hasty
execution, your Majesty," said Eowyn.
"How quaint," said Thranduil. "Very well; I will
send Astaldo to the stables, and you can question him whilst you
prepare for the journey. But he is not to accompany you,"
I am sure that the Valar appreciate all the guidance you are
giving them, thought Eowyn.
"Melmenya? What are you doing?"
"I need to change," said Eowyn. "Quickly."
"What is the task?"
"I must travel to Sad Glawar and persuade the Edair of the
benefits of paying poll tax," she said, pulling a dark blue
gown out of her clothes chest.
"Valar!" exclaimed Legolas, softly.
Eowyn held up the gown before her and, critically, examined its
effect in the mirror. "No," she said, throwing it down
on the bed. She turned to Legolas, desperately. "I need to
look like your father's representative. Like an ambassador."
"The Edair of Sad Glawar are rough and wild," said
Legolas. "They are warriors. They would pay no heed to an
ambassador." He reached into the clothes chest and drew out
her woollen tunic and leggings. "Wear these," he said,
"and your armour. And let me braid your hair. You must look
like the Shieldmaiden you are."
He led her to the dressing table, sat her down before the mirror
and, using his own comb, swept back the front of her hair and
swiftly worked it into a single herringbone braid. Then he took
the loose strands above each ear and carefully plaited them into
small warrior's braids.
"There," he said. "They will not ignore The Lady
of the Shield Arm."
"Thank you," said Eowyn. She smiled, nervously. "What
more can you tell me about these people?" she asked.
Legolas thought for a moment. "Your task will not be easy,
Eowyn nín," he admitted. "They are fierce and
independent and they resent authority. But if you can win their
heartsand I know you will, melmenyathey will gladly
pay their taxes." He helped her into her leather cuirass.
"Ai, Eowyn nín," he said, suddenly,
"I wish you were staying here, with me!"
"Once I have succeeded, my darling, and your father has
given us his permission," said Eowyn, "we will marry
properly and be together forever. We will go back to Eryn Carantaur
and we will spend every night making love before the fire..."
Legolas hugged her tightly. "I will hold you to that, Eowyn
nín," he said, kissing the top of her head.
"I will hold you to it."
"Lady Eowyn? Your Highness?"
Eowyn turned from checking Brightstar's girth. "Lord Astaldo,
thank you for coming," she said, "I assume that King
Thranduil has told you why I wish to speak with you?"
"Yes, my lady." He glanced around the stable, furtively,
then took her by the arm and drew her into an empty stall. Legolas
"I will answer any questions you have, of course,"
said Astaldo, "but it is a complicated situation and we have
very little time. That is why"he glanced out of the
stall"my daughter will be accompanying you."
"Yes. She is waiting for you by the Forest River, just out
of sight of the Gates. Aredhel's mother grew up in Sad Glawar
and her uncle still lives there. I think you will find her assistance
Eowyn grasped Astaldo's hand. "Thank you my lord,"
"Yes," said Legolas, "thank you. I will not forget
the help that you and Aredhel are giving my lady."
Astaldo placed his hand over his heart and bowed his head. "No
i Melain na le," he said to Eowyn. "Sílo
Anor bo men lín, hiril nín."